Saturday, September 10, 2011

Midwestern Ghosts

Book Reviewed: The Marvelous Bones of Time: Excavations and Explanations, by Brenda Coultas

The best thing so far about being in an MFA program is getting to talk books with serious readers again.  When I worked at the library, I got to talk to people about a lot of books I loved, but I never met other poetry readers or people interested in anything more experimental.  The MFA program is full of people who read almost nothing else.  This means my to-read list has officially grown to preposterous levels.  One of the first new friends I met in the program is also an Indiana-ite.  When he found out that most of my writing is about the state and its people, he recommended a poet originally from Indiana named Brenda Coultas.  Luckily, Notre Dame's library had a copy of her book, The Marvelous Bones of Time

Bones is a strange little book.  The first half consists of poetry about Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois, and Ohio.  Here, Coultas explores the idea of place and dives deep into the history of the area as part of the Underground Railroad.  The second half of the book is made up of ghost stories.  Some are stories that Coultas experienced first-hand; others are just stories she's heard over the years.  The entire book has an unsettling, haunted feeling that really works well.  It's a cool little collection.

Coultas's poems are written very plainly, but they somehow manage to resist having either a narrative drive or a lyric drive.  They just exist as they do on the page, which after several weeks of learning way more about poetic theory than I care to dig up, was super-refreshing.  Her ghost stories have a poetic vibe to them as well, despite being written as prose.  They are very short and to the point; if you blink, you might miss the actual ghost.  Since I have a certain fondness for well-told ghost stories, I enjoyed this part of the book as much as I enjoyed the poetry.  If you are looking for something strange and haunting, or if you're a Midwestern place poet who wants to see how it's done, this is the book for you.

Note:  While reading this book, I was reminded of my only encounter with a ghost, an incident which took place a couple summers ago at a nature park.  A friend and I experienced the strange encounter together, and to this day, we can't explain it.  Although God knows my hyper-reasonable friend has tried.

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